Opposition parties prepared to demonstrate on Sunday after President Macky Sall announced the indefinite postponement of a presidential election set for February 25, sparking a wave of international concern.
Just a day before official campaigning was due to start, Sall plunged the nation into the unknown saying he intervened because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court over the rejection of candidates.
Lawmakers are investigating two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned.
“I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election,” Sall said, without providing a new date.
Under Senegal’s election code, at least 80 days must pass between publication of the decree setting the date and the election, so the earliest a vote could now be held is late April.
Presidential candidates said they would launch their campaigns on Sunday in defiance of the official postponement.
The RFM opposition party said it “systematically” rejects the postponement.
“We will see all Senegalese people this Sunday for a march,” said party spokesperson Cheikh Tidiane Youm.
Habib Sy, one of the 20 candidates, said opposition parties had met and agreed to launch their election campaigns together.
Another opposition figure, former mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall, called for pro-democratic forces to unite.
“All of Senegal must stand up,” he told journalists.
Sall, who is not related to the president, denounced “a constitutional coup” by a leader who “dreams of eternity”.
The United States, the European Union and former colonial master France led appeals for the vote to be rescheduled at the earliest date.
The EU called for a transparent, inclusive and credible election as soon as possible, with spokesperson Nabila Massrali noting the delay “opens a period of uncertainty”.
In Paris, the foreign ministry said: “We call on authorities to end the uncertainty about the electoral calendar so the vote can be held as soon as possible, under the rules of Senegalese democracy.”
The US State Department also urged Senegal to “swiftly” set a date for a “timely, free and fair election” in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
The West African bloc ECOWAS expressed “concern” and called on social media platform X for dialogue and an expedited process to set a new date.
Senegal has traditionally been seen as a rare example of democratic stability in West Africa, which has been hit by a series of coups in recent years including in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
It was the first time a Senegalese presidential election has been postponed and added to the growing tension.
Read moreSenegal vote postponement latest crisis to hit ‘West Africa’s most stable democracy’
A November 2023 decree signed by Sall had set the election for February 25, with 20 candidates in the running but two major opposition figures excluded.
Sall on Saturday reiterated that he would not be a candidate.
But one opposition leader, Thierno Alassane Sall, denounced what he called “high treason towards the Republic” in a post on X, and called on “patriots and republicans” to oppose it.
El Malick Ndiaye, former spokesman of a disbanded opposition party once led by the now-jailed Ousmane Sonko, also denounced the decision.
“This is not a delay of the election, but a cancellation pure and simple,” he wrote on Facebook.
President Sall had designated Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor after announcing he would not run for a third term.
But with his party split over his candidacy, Ba faced possible defeat in the ballot box.
Anti-establishment candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye has emerged as a potential winner, despite being behind bars.
His candidacy was approved by authorities, making him the first imprisoned candidate to contest a Senegalese election.
The Constitutional Council has excluded dozens of candidates from the vote, including Sonko, who has been jailed since July 2023, and Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade.
Wade’s supporters in the National Assembly called for a parliamentary inquiry into the partiality of two judges on the Constitutional Court.
That motion was passed by the Assembly on January 31, with some members of Sall’s party supporting it.